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Can I get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and have any other types of income?

There are two different types of incomes, according to the Social Security Administration: unearned income and earned income. To understand the answer to this question, you first must understand the difference between the two and how they affect your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments.

What does the Social Security Administration consider as unearned income?

According to the Social Security Administration, not all income is earned. Common types of unearned income include:

• In-kind support and maintenance (food or shelter) given to an individual or received by an individual because someone else paid for it (see §§2140-2142);
• Private pensions and annuities;
• Periodic public payments such as Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs pension and compensation payments, civil service annuities, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, and payments based on need involving Federal funds;
• Life insurance proceeds and other death benefits, to the extent that the total amount is more than the expenses of the deceased person's last illness and burial paid by the individual;
• Gifts and inheritances;
• Support and alimony payments in cash or in-kind;
• Prizes and awards;
• Dividends and interest;
• Rents and royalties (except those royalties defined as earned income); and
• In-kind payments to certain agricultural workers;
• Jury fees;
• Money paid to individuals who are residents, but not employees, of institutions.

(Information provided by the Social Security Administration at

What does the Social Security Administration consider earned income?

• Wages - Wages are what an individual receives (before any deductions) for working as someone else's employee. Wages include salaries, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, and any other special payments received because of employment. Wages may also include the value of food and shelter, or other items provided instead of cash. For example, shelter provided to an employee can be considered wages. This is considered in-kind earned income. However, for domestic or agricultural workers, in-kind pay is treated as unearned income.
• Net earnings from self employment
• Payments for services in a sheltered workshop, and
• Most royalties and honoraria.

(Information provided by the Social Security Administration at

Am I performing substantial gainful activity (SGA)?

Now that we have defined earned and unearned income, it is important to understand what the SSA considers “substantial gainful activity.” According to the SSA, SSDI claimants will not be awarded benefits if they are performing substantial gainful activity which is the term the SSA uses to describe the claimant’s level of work activity and earnings.

According to the SSA, gainful work activity is:

• Work performed where the claimant receives pay or profit; or
• Work that generally is performed for pay or profit; or
• Work intended for profit, even if profit is received.

Prior to awarding SSDI benefits the SSA will evaluate whether or not you are performing work at a substantial level. What the SSA will consider substantial varies based on whether the claimant is blind or non-blind. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for a statutorily blind person ($1,640 a month for the year 2011). Other claimants may earn up to $1000 a month (for the year 2011).

So to answer the question, you cannot perform substantial gainful activity and receive earned income of more than $1,000 for non-blind and $1,640 for blind claimants but you can receive unearned income as defined above.